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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP
7 May 2002
Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, is considering a bid to protect Patagonian toothfish from illegal fishing through a listing under the international Convention for Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Consultations with stakeholders including scientists, conservation groups, commercial fishers and others will begin immediately.
Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish are a high value table fish found in remote southern oceans including in Australian territorial waters around Heard, McDonald, and Macquarie Islands.
The high value of toothfish in the United States, Japan, Canada and Europe has made them a prime target for illegal fishers, with estimates that the illegal catch is at least double, and possibly as much as four times as great, as the legal catch.
Dr Kemp said there was concern that the scale of the illegal fishery could cause a collapse of the legal and regulated fishery within five years if it was not brought under greater control.
There had already been a major increase in illegal fishers in Australian waters as other grounds were fished out, increasing the threat to our managed fishery.
The Royal Australian Navy recently intercepted two illegal fishing vessels in Australian Antarctic territorial waters.
"Australia has been active in protecting toothfish stocks through its membership of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources," Dr Kemp said.
"But it may be that a CITES listing could complement and strengthen these measures by the need, under CITES, for both exporters and importers of listed species to provide documentation indicating that their catch is legal."
With 158 member countries, CITES uses international trade permits and monitoring as the main instruments to assist conservation. An Appendix II listing of toothfish under CITES would require countries to have a permit before they can trade in toothfish.
Dr Kemp said that even if discussions with environmental groups, fishers, states and other countries pointed to support for a listing, there was no guarantee a push by Australia would be successful.
"There is a strong possibility some member countries would object to a listing simply because it would be seen as a precedent," he said. "The issue is important enough, however, for us to give strong and urgent consideration as to whether we should proceed," Dr Kemp said.
A final decision on whether Australia will sponsor a bid for a CITES listing will be made in June.
Catherine Job (02) 6277 7640 or 0408 648 400